When Rebekah and I got married in 2008 she was influenced by a professor from her previous college. This professor was a mentor and a friend and led her to recommit her life to Christ and basically experience lordship salvation. But he also was a “house church only” guy. He fully advocated the ideas of Watchman Nee and especially anything by Frank Viola. That year a new version of Viola’s Pagan Christianity had come out and was at the forefront of everything that he and Rebekah were talking about. It was a very inconvenient thing for me, but could have possibly prevented me from a lot of unnecessary heartache and disappointment. I had just met Rebekah and was planning on marrying her, but I was also at a critical juncture where I had to graduate and possibly start pursuing ministry with the Assemblies of God. When you start to pursue ministry with the Assemblies of God, or really any other denomination, that usually means that you start off volunteering in youth ministry; and then you work your way up by earning your stripes.
There were chaotic circumstances surrounding my relationship with Rebekah, that weren’t about the way she was as a person so much as they were about how each of our families were treating us at the time, and driving a wedge between us. Rebekah’s sensitive nature didn’t allow her to handle the stress very well. At one point I thought I was going to break off our engagement permanently and not get married. But after we had a deep soul-searching conversation, we decided that we would get married no matter what our family members said. The priority at this point was to focus on each other, and grow in love and relationship with one another; and it was not to allow any sort of ministry activity or family members to become a distraction from that. And that was probably a good idea at that time, because Rebekah had just really get gotten saved in 2005 and putting me and her into a ministry situation, probably wouldn’t have been the best idea for us. But that isn’t to say that the reasons why we avoided ministry were correct. At the time we had been convinced theologically, although it was harder for me to buy into it, that ministry in what we called the “institutional church” was not a divine invention but a human one: and almost always led to some sort of personal failure or loss of relationship with God. The reasons seemed to be so clear:
1. Institutional pastors tend to ask for money a lot when they should be content to merely preach the Word of God for no money at all. But the financial pressures of having a church building, and paying for its bills, are often too much of an issue to keep a pastor from turning into a beggar.
2. Institutional pastors have a tendency to avoid personal interaction with people, because it keeps in tact their sense of spiritual authority over others, so that they feel like they are higher than them.
3. Institutional pastors, due to the influence of the seeker sensitive movement, do not preach lordship salvation, or about Hell, or about casting out demons, or healing, or prophetic ministry, or repentance, or sanctification, or about God’s law, and are in general antinomian or maybe even universalist.
4. Institutional pastors, as result of the third point, don’t do any open-air preaching like Ray Comfort does.
5. Institutional youth pastors tend to allow for a lot of carnality in their attempts to reach young people. This leads to an endless array of things that are invented by man, and are not grounded in the Bible: such as going to the pool and showing off skin immodestly, or watching unedited movies together as a group, allowing for sexual innuendos, and profanity, dirty jokes, etc.
6. Institutional pastors tend to avoid any real conversations about spirituality, mysticism, the supernatural, miraculous gifts, or the prophetic.
7. Institutional pastors tend to lack theological depth in their sermons.
8. Institutional cell groups tend to be very superficial, and genuine friendships are not really developed in them, because they’re just sort of like little classrooms where the cell group leader teaches people like a Bible study, and then everybody goes their separate ways.
9. Institutional pastors are surrounded by suck-ups that just want to play power politic games in the church.
10. Institutional pastors, even though they constantly accommodate to men in order to please them, are still attacked and manipulated by Jezebel spirits operating mainly through bossy women in the church, causing strains on their marriages.
It sounded reasonable. I’d had enough negative experiences at churches to provide evidence for all of ten of these things. But does that mean you should not go to church and should not do ministry at all? No. In order for our consciences to stay at peace though, we had to redefine what the words “church” and “ministry” meant, and it basically led to inactivity. It led to us just staying at home and not going to church: maybe we would hold our own little Bible studies, or listen to some praise and worship music, and that would be the sum of it. As time went on, I tried to focus on my job as a sales representative: and I found that things got very chaotic. It was very difficult for me to hold down a job and whenever I did find a job, managers were often so mean-spirited that I could not hang on for long. I always put my whole heart into whatever I was doing, and would often find myself in positions where I was training other salespeople. But the level of chaos and job instability eventually led me to question whether or not I had taken the right pathway.
Recently I was at church and I was thinking about this very thing, and I went up to the altar for prophetic ministry, and the pastor said that I needed to partner with God and ask Him what I needed to do in order to make this thing resolve itself. This pastor does not know me naturally, so he’s in a position to speak more prophetically to me. I need to be involved with denominational ministry in the Assemblies of God that I’m attending. Rebekah and I recently had a long conversation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that although there are evils, conflicts, and compromises in denominational churches, we should embrace these things as as if we are on a battleground, and we are soldiers in a war. We must acknowledge that these things are going to happen, that they are already present, and that we need to be prepared to face evil in the church whenever it faces us. To avoid it is to be a coward. There’s nothing noble about avoiding it. In fact, I believe that according to Hebrews 12, I may be experiencing so much difficulty in the corporate world, because God has been trying to get me back into the church world. There is no way for a Christian that is baptized in the Holy Spirit to avoid trials and tribulations in this life. So why not make the most of it by glorifying God through ministry? Sure there’s going to be the mundane aspects of that. But why not also bring in the influences of the following revivalists: Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, Charles Finney, William J. Seymour, Smith Wigglesworth, Gordon Lindsay, Donald Gee, Dennis Bennett, Derek Prince, John Wimber, Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, and Puritan theologians that preach righteousness and holiness.
These books come to mind for a good idea of ministry: Martin Luther’s Luther’s Works: Church and Ministry vols. I & II and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.